In an email, Chapman provided data showing the number of coronavirus cases has been growing by between 7 percent and 12 percent in Okaloosa County every day since June 9, which is well above the 5 percent White House Re-Opening America Gating Criteria she used as a barometer.

FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County has reached the dubious milestone of 500 diagnosed COVID-19 cases and Health Department Director Dr. Karen Chapman warned local leaders Thursday that the county is facing a critical situation.

The county reported 43 new cases Wednesday to reach the 500 mark, which more than doubles the 232 cases that had been reported as of June 1.

In an email, Chapman provided data showing the number of coronavirus cases has been growing by between 7 percent and 12 percent in Okaloosa County every day since June 9, which is well above the 5 percent White House Re-Opening America Gating Criteria she used as a barometer.

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The county has been exceeding the 5 percent mark since June 7, the data showed.

“This is a critical situation,” Chapman said.

Data also indicates that for the last five weeks each person carrying COVID-19 has passed the coronavirus on to 2.24 others.

“The total number of active cases in the county is growing at an unsustainable rate,“ Chapman said. ”If this trend continues the hospital system may become overwhelmed.“

At present there are seven COVID-19 patients being treated in area hospitals, according to Public Safety Director Patrick Maddox. Four of those are in ICU units.

The Health Department and well as urgent care medical providers are straining to meet the demand of the spike in coronavirus cases, Chapman said. Health officials are no longer able to meet the time frame to interview and investigate all new cases within 24 hours.

“The pace of increase of new cases is not sustainable since we are outstripping our ability to conduct adequate case finding, isolating of new cases, meet testing demand and quarantine of close contacts,” she said.

Chapman said they would prioritize investigating hospitalized cases, as well as those involving in healthcare, EMS or public safety personnel. They would also focus on individuals 65 and older who have tested positive.

We will get in touch with all cases,“ she said in an email to the Daily News. ”However, at this point it could take longer than 24 hours from DOH-Okaloosa notification of a new case until conducting the interview of the case and investigation of contacts.“

They are asking individuals who do not fall into one of the prioritized categories to try and identify where they might have been exposed, to notify people they may have inadvertently put at risk and to advise their contacts about self-quarantine. Chapman said they will provide guidance on how to handle that process.

“We also provide our Public Information Line 850-344-0566 so a contact who is or becomes ill can contact DOH-Okaloosa to schedule testing,” she added in the email. “If any new case is uncomfortable with doing this, DOH-Okaloosa staff will reach out to the contacts.”

The availability of testing is also factoring into the current crisis.

The Health Department has fielded more than 600 calls every day this week and exceeded 700 Wednesday, Chapman said. The vast majority of callers are requesting testing.

The agency has expanded access to its Fort Walton Beach location to its maximum capacity and is documenting about 250 appointments per week.

“All but three of the Health Department’s week’s appointments were booked by mid-day Wednesday,” Chapman said. “Tuesday, drive-thru testing conducted at Northwest Florida State College-Fort Walton Beach (not Niceville) was swamped.”

A total of 697 people were tested at the Fort Walton college campus. A drive-thru location has been opened in Crestview, but due to a limited number of testing materials, only 400 tests can be conducted.